Settling The Tourist Vs Local Debate About Thames Street

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There’s nothing quite like having someone who doesn’t live in your city try to correct your own city’s most popular street.

It never fails. At least once a summer, and many more times for the people who work, live or play downtown, someone will ask you directions to…well, anywhere…and you mention the main drag that you’re on…that they’ll have to take if they want to get to where they’re going…and you pronounce it “Thames Street”, someone has to cut you off with “Tems?”

No, not “Tems”. Why would we pronounce T-H-A-M-E-S as “Tems”?

If you want to hang out by “Tems”, feel free to hop on a flight to Heathrow or Gatwick and get an explanation from the locals there for why they started spelling the name of the river “Temese” back in the 800s, but then scholars in the time of the Renaissance, pulling off an early version of the Autocorrect Fail with their Greek or Roman keyboard, and respelled it “Thames”.



In sort of an “Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario, everyone played along that “Thames” was pronounced “Tems”, despite the spelling and the pronunciation drifting further and further apart over the centuries.

Now, today, in this modern world, recently unemployed British car show presenter Jeremy Clarkson told the world that we Americans pronounce Jaguar incorrectly when we say “Jag-war”, because it’s “Jag-you-are”…because Jaguar is spelled with a “U”.

This we can accept, if everyone can get it in their heads that we pronounce “Thames” as “ThAms” because it has a “TH” and an “A” in it.

After all, we split from the UK over 200 years ago and it’s high time that everyone stops covering up for their mistakes. We got rid of all those redundant “U”s in “colour” and the like, so saying the word “Thames” like it’s spelled should be a no-brainer.

Otherwise, if you’re just trying to find a way to tell the world that you went to London for that week in high school, you’re going to have to find a better way than attempting to correct the local population of Newport on how they pronounce their own words for their own places.

As for any current or former Subjects of the Crown (Hello Mum!) who insist on imposing the United Kingdom’s claim to an American city’s street through pronunciation? Eh, let ’em do it. It’s kind of endearing.

Also endearing? This bit on the dichotomy between the spelling and saying of Irish names…

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast English Correspondent


Tristan's just this guy, ya know?